Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Roosevelt converts to Hinduism!

Well, that's what Civilization 4 told me last night. I got the game for Decemberween, since it was the natural progression: the last two PC games I bought were Civ 2 and Civ 3. My laptop isn't up to specs, but the game still manages to work, though it's a bit choppy, and sometimes my horses, cows, and so forth turn invisible, except for their shadows, apparently possessing custom hoof-oriented knock-offs of the One Ring.

I'm thinking about getting a new desktop that'll meet and beat the specs so that it'll play smoothly. I'm nearly oblivious to the nuances of PC gaming and appropriate hardware, so if you have advice as to how to build and/or buy such a unit (preferably for cheap), please speak to me as if I had the IQ of a YEC... Well, maybe not that low. My idea of compatibility checking is looking for a Playstation logo.

But enough about my pansy PC. I thought I'd bring up Civ 4 because it features more detailed mechanics than usual on religion. For those who haven't played the Civ games, religious and political ideologies are in the big category of "technology" alongside more concrete things like chemistry, lasers, and robotics. Religious "technologies" often work as prerequisites for other technologies. To some extent, I think that's understandable. For example, with all the efforts humans have put into building bigger and better temples to the deities, we've probably learned a few good engineering lessons. I recall some shows that demonstrated some clever mechanics to produce "miracles" in Greek temples.

One (possibly flawed) analogy comes to mind: The space program. In the early days, scientists had to push the limits of engineering to put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and all their buddies on the moon. The Egyptians had to do the same to build the pyramids. The difference: Religion hasn't displayed any evidence of a moon for it to land on. The end result might be the same, though: In the effort to achieve the end goal, many lessons are learned, and new, useful technologies are developed.

Counter-analogy: Religion can be a lot like war when it comes to technology. War has brought about many advances. There was even a show about it. The problem is that those advances have a cost in terms of homes and lives destroyed that I would prefer to avoid. Religion is similar in that it incurs often unacceptable costs: It can cause a reduction in critical thinking abilities. (Exception I'd make to the sweeping generality: The religious people who readily adjust their beliefs when new facts come in. You're okay in my book.) At its worst, it triggers witch hunts, wars, and other atrocities.

Though modern science has correctly shed its ancient dependency on religion and the supernatural, I'm curious how our distant ancestors would have progressed without religion. I imagine they probably would have progressed faster, not being held back by the phrase "Things Man Was Not Meant to Know." Then again, I can imagine the threat of a plague of vicious beasts if you don't build a perfectly hemispherical dome on the temple could encourage someone to accurately calculate pi.

For now, though, I'm going to continue researching Meditation, so that I can get Philosophy down the line, followed by Liberalism, so I can get the Free Religion civic. I'm not sure I qualify as a liberal, but I'll take it anyway.

P.S.: I typed "First Amendment" in whitehouse.gov's search engine for the "Free Religion" hotlink, and I got this bit of unintentional humor. I didn't intend to get political, but I couldn't really resist this.

EDIT: Tried the whitehouse.gov search engine again, and some results showed up. I guess it was a temporary glitch. It's still funny, though.


Rockstar Crystal said...

Y'know, for some reason, I think that religion was necessary for our progression into the science and technology we currently have. I've always thought that religion was created for people to explain their existence and have something to hold onto; a source of hope to keep people going in a cruel world. It was also a primitive form of science (I beg pardon of all scientists for using this analogy). Though religion does give an explanation for existence, it still lacks a plausible explanation of why existence occurred. There were a few who realized this and decided it was time to investigate religion as a whole. After all, it's human nature to want to explain things, but no one can explain intangible things. Therefore, concentration was focused on the tangible and there began the birth of modern science. Do I make sense?

So, in a conclusion that doesn't really deal with the preceding paragraph but does make me laugh inside, I believe that the length of time that religion holds its place in society doesn't matter because there will still be people who don't give in to bullshit. :D

Bronze Dog said...

You've covered some good points. I suppose, in another sense, religion is an unavoidable early stage in science:

It's hard to look at an enormous pile of confusing data without trying to come up with a "simple" unifying hypothesis, such as watch-making celestials.

I suppose the main difference between "bad" religion and "good" religion is testing. "Bad" religion starts with the conclusion and turtles worse than I do during research & building phases of Civ. "Good" religion is willing to critique its internal inconsistencies, change when new facts come in, or, even better, seek out new facts.

Rockstar Ryan said...

Agreed. Humans naturally want explanations for things, and deities were the best they could think of. I often wonder how the myths all got started.

Did someone just make up Greek mythology one day? I mean really, I understand the telephone game effect of storytelling, but who made it all up?

I think that it all based itself in the two "gods" early man was able to see for themselves - the sun and the moon.

MichaelBains said...

I really like this post AND y'all's comments.

One of the few, but important, things that makes me shake my head about a lot of atheist/skeptical commenting is the semi-necessary denial of any value to religious ideas. Our ancestors used these tricks and guesses and honest, though extremely ignorant, observations to explain their environments as best they could do.

Group story tellings started myth-construction thousands of years ago and, since oral traditions have no fossilization potential, it's near to impossible to really track original (pre-Gilgameshian) sources for most religious myths. Your comments are all refreshing because they, with the usual Rock Starian aplomb, have fun Calling Bullshit without forgoing or denying that the BS probably seemed more logical a long time ago than did anything else our ancestors had the ability to imagine. Before recording they were relying on generations of memorized stories for all of their historic "facts."

I'm just glad you won't give up the cynicism, sarcasm or the skepticism though. Especially when it looks like one of Ryan's imaginary interviewees is on the move again.

Bronze Dog said...

When it comes to ancient people, I can pardon them for their mistakes, since they can realistically plead ignorance. To some extent, I can actually admire what they accomplished with their limited technology.

If I wanted to build a pyramid of my own, I could run a modelling program, run stress calculations, and have a wide variety of tools with which to extract, transport, and plant the stones. The Egyptians didn't have those luxuries. They didn't even have a concept of zero, did they?

When it comes down to it, I think we're all irrationally motivated. Cutting down on nonsense isn't going to change that. I'm a skeptic, but I still stand up for irrational concepts like love, justice, and all that. I'd just rather people stand up for them for reasons beyond fears of winding up in some place where they're forced to play Deadly Towers all day or something.

Jay Denari said...

Hi, all,

MBains wrote ...the semi-necessary denial of any value to religious ideas.

Actually, we should make a clear distinction between religious ideas and religious practices. In every known society, there's some form of religion, b/c the rituals serve a perfectly reasonable purpose -- they help unify the community and provide an outlet for unacceptable behavior and counseling for troubled residents. A great example is the Kachina rites of Hopi/Pueblo peoples.

The problem arises as population grows and the religious leaders become more and more out of touch with the lives of everyday people in the sense of actually having to share physical responsibility for food production, etc. They forget (by choice or accident of being in families that haven't had to work in a long time) that they are in fact dependent on their followers for survival and come to believe instead that they are RESPONSIBLE for their followers' survival. Eventually, they craft rules that claim their status is divinely appointed for life (as opposed to shamans who recognize the community can oust them if they fail to do their job), have a large number of sycophantic supporters who are themselves not food producing, and drift into delusion in part because they lack contact with everyday reality and genuine knowledge of the people as individuals.

Starting as practices reasonably linked to honoring ancestors and symbolizing important activities (planting, hunting, etc) or aspects of a given place shared by everyone who believed them, such rituals distorted over time into something by which a few people can parasitize the many. In that process, the ideas tend to become more abstract, less demonstrable, and less connected to actual survival needs.